Farmers are used to working within the vagaries of nature, the endless heat of summer, downpours, droughts, invading insects — what has become a typical North Dakota summer.
Paul Kuzel is well used to dealing with the whims of nature as he farms in rural Lidgerwood. Farming just wasn’t enough for Kuzel as he channeled his love of growing crops into an interesting hobby of growing pumpkins.
Not just one or two pumpkins.
Not even 10 or 12 pumpkins.
He grew more than 1,000 pumpkins this year, which made their way into a festive Halloween display near his rural Lidgerwood home, along N.D. Highway 18.
Pumpkins are the focal element of this display and come in all shapes and sizes, including a 750-pound behemoth that actually won Kuzel first place in a Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, pumpkin contest. He took $100 and a traveling trophy for having the largest pumpkin.
Beyond pumpkins, the display also features an old rusty truck, scarecrows, hay bales, corn shocks and of course so many pumpkins spilling out onto the hillside. There are six different varieties, everything from the giants to jack o’lanterns and miniatures. There are even some bumpy pumpkins that look like they have warts across their flesh. That variety especially is one of Kuzel’s favorites, he said.
There also are so many different color variations of orange, mixed in with the periodic white pumpkins the display is eye catching. People actually stop their vehicles along the highway to look at this display. And snap pictures. And honk when they see Kuzel checking out to make sure everything stays in place.
It’s been a tad windy the past few weeks, and the corn shocks don’t do well in the wind, he said.
Typically Kuzel and his wife, Stephanie, only put out about 500 pumpkins, but since they had help this year, the total is well more than 1,000 pumpkins.
“We had three loaders going back and forth between the house and highway,” Kuzel laughed. “Since we had so many helpers, we just kept putting pumpkins in the loaders.”
And what he ended up with is the largest Halloween display so far in the 10 years the Kuzels have decorated beside the highway.
Growing pumpkins, especially the giants, takes a lot of work. It isn’t a simple matter of dredging seeds into a hill, Kuzel said. He digs out the regular garden soil, adds manure, early planting soil and liquid fertilizer each week.
He has given up about one-third of his vegetable garden, about a half-acre in all, just for his pumpkins. And he isn’t done there since the large pumpkins are grown next to the house so he can keep track of them. Each plant for the big variety covers about a 30-foot circle, just so it can have room for the vines to grow.
Every evening during the summer he plucked off vines, or sprayed for cucumber beetles and fungus, watered every three days when it grew hot and dry. “The biggest deal is keeping the weeds out of them. Everybody gets to do a little weed picking,” he said.
Kuzel said it was almost like having another baby in the house considering how much time and effort went into caring for his giant pumpkins. “It’s like cutting the umbilical cord when you cut those big pumpkins off the vine.” he said.
Besides the 750 pounder, Kuzel also had two other large pumpkins at 400 and 300 pounds, both of which came off the same plant. He could have plucked one of the pumpkins off that vine so the one left over could grow extra large. Kuzel said he just didn’t have the heart to do that. “They both looked so nice I couldn’t take one off.”
Once the season is over, Kuzel will harvest his seeds and then will push what’s left into a nearby shelter belt for deer and squirrels to feed on over winter.